The Decorum Diaries

Unapologetically ladylike.

Poses For Promenades

How NOT to Pose for Prom, and Why.

This post is dedicated to A., thank you for the encouragement. The results of which appear below.

Bethany is a competitive athlete and poised to finish her high school career at the top of her class. Jack and Beth have been friends since Kindergarten and while they cut loose and enjoyed the night immensely, I noticed from start to finish a certain formality between them, which was fitting of the occasion, and true to their personalities.

There are a few areas of decorum in which I still prod my seventeen-year-old son.  

'Don't be afraid that offering help will offend, offer it anyway.' 

'Eat slowly.'

'Never call anyone HOT, unless you're taking their temperature.' 

I often do this by pointing out some of the consequences he and his peers may face if they carry on with an off-putting behavior. Most recently we were discussing prom photos of all things.

This spring Jack had the honor of escorting three charming and accomplished young ladies to their respective dances. I offer his being a sought after date as proof that carrying yourself with dignity and exhibiting respect for others pays dividends, even for teenage boys. He had an absolute ball, and I was greatly encouraged by his generation's ladylike young women. In fact, at all three dances, I happily noticed a trend toward elegant, timeless, and more modest dresses. These girls will be sitting pretty in college, having a sophisticated frock in their wardrobe ready to go.  
At any age, it is wise to think at least five years into the future when considering formalwear. If a piece is too on-trend, loud, or uncomfortably revealing, odds are you won't wear it again. No one wants to attend their first formal wedding as a young adult, in a dress that screams high school prom or a brand new dress that wasn't in the budget. If you have little women in your house, shopping with them for formals presents an opportunity to pass on the wisdom in thinking ahead, which too many of us have had to learn the hard way. 

Jenna is an accomplished ballerina and carries herself with such poise. Look at that posture! She and Jack had only met once before and I was in awe of how the two of them conducted themselves with a relaxed confidence (on the outside anyway) that would be the envy of many adults.


So no, it wasn't the dresses that had me in a tither. It was the pose a few of them struck while wearing those dresses. I do hope this isn't the beginning of a new trend, but I have my concerns. No doubt they were merely mimicking what they've seen on television and online formalwear catalogs. These kids did not dream the poses up themselves; for they looked unnatural and unsuited to Main Street, America. (Which was precisely where the photos in question were taken.) Nevertheless, as the photographs began to show up in my newsfeed, I was taken aback. 

I've paused in writing this, wanting to put this criticism delicately, knowing it isn't a reflection of those involved but of our culture in general. I'm reminded of how very many things I did in my youth that I'd rather forget, and rather still, never have done. Even so, if I am to write honestly and dependably on the topic of decorum, which fascinates and eludes me in equal measure, I am going to have to write frankly about my observations. And ironically, that's going to come off as rude. But the lack of authority on the subject of modern etiquette is what's got us here, so it's time for those of us concerned to be that voice. I'm thinking about Emily Post and her 1928 book, Etiquette. She made no bones about calling out the poor behavior of young ladies who had taken to touching up their makeup in full view of the public at the theater. (And absent her admonishments, the line between public and private behavior has all but disappeared. )

So I will make no bones about this--

It is a mistake to engage in a passionate kiss in photographs before you're married. And since I'm being frank-- and because the memory of my wedding kiss still haunts me, a passionate lip-lock isn't appropriate for weddings either. Save passion for the honeymoon suite! Even a matrimonial kiss should be demure. And high school prom photos should be the sweetest and most innocent of all. 

In one of the pictures that hurt my heart, a smiling girl in a white lace dress had been picked up and thrown over her date's shoulder, his arm holds her up by her bottom, which is resting next to his grinning, baby face. If not for the baby faces of both you would have thought this their wedding night. Even the photo quality and lighting brought wedding bells to mind. But, stick with me for a minute, what if these two teenaged lovebirds don't end up tying the knot? They certainly won't have the luxury of shredding the photos as we did when good sense prevailed. Will they be comfortable showing their future family their old prom photos? And how on earth will they top them for their actual weddings? --Of course they'll want their wedding photos to outshine their prom pictures, wedding photos should outshine prom pictures!

Why, oh why, do we encourage and respond so passively when we see our children forcing milestones prematurely? 

Pre-mature. As in, not yet mature enough. It is time we remember that there are seasons to childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, and as parents, it is ours to set the pace. Not all things are for all times. And rushing moments can water down, or worse, spoil future moments.

Working up the stamina not to crack himself up.

...nailed it.
Alli was sure a good sport to go along with his silly poses-- hey when there's a pitchfork just laying there, how can you NOT do American Gothic? From the stories they told afterward, the theme of this particular date was mirth.  Alli's was a prom for homeschoolers (as was Jenna's) and I loved hearing how well the kids mingled and got to know the other attendees. And I was flabbergasted to hear that Jack attempted 'every waltz, and most of the swing dances.' Hey, he's a good sport too!


My son, to his great chagrin, does not have a passive mother and has been prodded into right behavior since toddlerhood. He wasn't surprised to hear of my disappointment in the photographs of that night.* But instead of defending the poses, he convinced me I needn't say any more on the matter. "On that subject mom, your job is done. I wouldn't dream of posing like that." Jack is loyal, accepting, and the least critical person I know-- for him to phrase it in that way hushed me on the topic for good. (With him, anyway.)

You get little relief when parenting teens today. I'll take mine where I can get it. We'll mark that box checked.

If you're raising children, or are otherwise instructing teenagers, please take Jack's response as encouragement that they are listening to us, and do take your wisdom to heart. Since our conversation, other photos of Jack with his peers have come to mind. One of my favorites is a photo of Jack with a large group of buddies; their arms draped over one another as the snow falls around them. Most of the boys are holding up hand signs or sticking out their tongues in the trend of the time. Jack stands confidently in the back. He's wearing a mischievous grin, and a twinkle in his eye, but his fingers are relaxed and his tongue out of sight. Some of those boys may feel a twinge of embarrassment in a few years looking back at the albums full of rock band tongue and play-gang finger poses. And some of them may still be posing in the same way, never considering any reason not to.

Which is why in this day of Ivy League schools retracting acceptance letters based on social media posts, and employers scouring the internet for glimpses into the character of prospective hires, we must train our children to pose for every photo with enough dignity to last a lifetime. And we'll do well to remember to do so ourselves.

*Nor was he surprised at my distress that a few of them missed the opportunity to practice formality when they opted for whimsical getups instead of traditional tuxedos-- to which he reminded me, "It's their prom, Mom."

That it is, dear one.


Do you feel differently about this topic? I'm truly interested in the opposing view and welcome it in the comment section. ~Anna